Child marriage

Girl footballers
Preventing child marriage through football, Bangladesh. Credit: Ricci Coughlan/DFID CC BY 2.0

Globally 12 million girls under 18 years of age enter formal or informal marriages every year. Child marriage increases girls’ risk of early and dangerous pregnancies, limits their formal and informal educational opportunities and increases their risk of poverty. 

Gendered social norms interact both with other norms and with underlying factors such as poverty and limited education and economic opportunities in different contexts to increase the likelihood of child marriage.

ALIGN’s infographic shows the ways that these factors, and child marriage laws are influenced by and influence a variety of beliefs, which in turn influence the norms that underpin child marriage. These norms prescribe ideal roles for women, the contexts in which sexuality can be expressed, and parents’ responsibilities for their daughters’ futures. Together they contribute to both norms that view child marriage as positive, a way of securing girls’ futures, or of gaining social respect as married women, and to a sense that marriage in adolescence is normal and that not marrying risks social stigma. In any given context, different norms and other factors will be of particular significance. 

Graphic showing how gendered norms and beliefs contribute to child marriage

Tools for researching child marriage

Effective action on child marriage relies on understanding the role and nature of the norms that contribute to it. This set of tools, curated by Margaret Greene and Ellen Stiefvater of Greeneworks, and the ALIGN team, outlines some of the resources that are available for researching and monitoring change in norms related to child marriage. Some have been created specifically for understanding child marriage and others can be adapted for this purpose. 

Read the child marriage and gender norms tools list